Rallies and marches can be challenging for cites and law enforcement under the best of circumstances. Hate rallies, however, don’t have to be the size of Charlottesville to be problematic for local police departments. Some hate rallies can be planned out, with plenty of advance notice, while others can seemingly come from out of nowhere.
- How Law enforcement professionals can create a detailed response plan already in place to deal with hate events
- How to plan for counter-protesters,
- How to do pre-event planning, create day-of-the-event policies and procedures, and post-event follow up.
Justice Clearinghouse Editors (JCH): Laurie, what is the role of Hate Rallies in the White Supremacist movement?
Laurie Wood: Rallies, marches and demonstrations are all very visible methods for hate groups to accomplish a number of their goals, but one of their main objectives is publicity. And at least up until the aftermath of the deadly events in Charlottesville last August, most hate group leaders seemed to follow the old adage of “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” Because if they can get publicity, that means they can get their message out to an untold number of potential recruits. Of course, they say they’re holding these events to explain their positions and further their causes. But when it comes down to it, they’re using them to gain followers and swell their ranks.
JCH: Walk us through a few of the immediate actions that a law enforcement organization might not immediately think about should once they realize that a hate rally is going to be held?
Laurie: One of the first things a law enforcement officer should do is thoroughly research the group that is holding the event — its history, beliefs, leaders and key followers. If the group held a recent rally or event in another city, contact law enforcement agency’s there for background and information. It’s certainly important to know if violence or other problems occurred and also if they were immediate on-scene indicators of those problems. Learn how other agencies responded to these events — what worked well for them, as well as what didn’t. Use all resources available to do your research. Contact your state and federal law enforcement agencies and non-governmental watchdog groups for additional information.
Designating the event location is another crucial decision. If the group holding the rally requests a specific location, consult with your city officials, including legal counsel, before deciding whether to approve it. But also be aware that specific legal criteria may have to be met if your city decides to reject the group’s desired location and choose an alternate site.
I also would suggest designating an officer to stay in contact with the group’s leader or representative to inform them of the guidelines you’ve established. If an opposing group plans a formal counter-protest, go over the guidelines with that group’s leaders or representatives also.
If the group holding the rally requests a specific location, consult with your city officials,
including legal counsel, before deciding whether to approve it.
But also be aware that specific legal criteria may have to be met
if your city decides to reject the group’s desired location and choose an alternate site.
JCH: You mentioned that these events can crop up with very little notice. Can you expand on that?
Laurie: Not that there’s an “ideal” situation when dealing with hate groups and the attendant counter protesters, but it certainly is optimal to have advance notice of these events. That way you can map out a solid plan using some of the steps that we’re discussing, as well as incorporating suggestions from other agencies.
However, what we’ve seen in recent months are events by these groups or individuals that were unannounced, and law enforcement had no future notifications. Think of these in terms of “flash protests,” that seem impromptu but actually are the product of careful planning by these groups and their leaders.
For instance, white nationalist leader Richard Spencer and a few dozen of his followers held another torch-lit march through Charlottesville only two months after the deadly events there in August, except this time there was no advance notice. Instead, the group marched through downtown to the Lee statue, Spencer gave a speech that was recorded then shared online and they left within 15 minutes.
Spencer called it a carefully constructed “flash mob” and said they had been planning it for a long time.
In a Washington Post article the day after the event one law professor said that as long as Spencer‘s flash protests didn’t get too big, and had fewer people staying a short amount of time, they could probably remain immune from regulations and permit requirements. A sociologist called it “a pretty well-planned action” out and “impressive because it’s strategic. They can probably get a fair amount of attention, and it doesn’t have the same cost. … For all intents and purposes,” he said, “all you really need to do is put it up as a video and share it.”
[Piggybacking other events] can accomplish a couple of things for the hate groups:
they can get publicity by protesting an event planned by others,
and they can try to detract from the message of the planned event, which is usually one they oppose.
JCH: Do White Nationalist groups ever “piggyback” other previously planned rallies, marches or events? What are some of the unique challenges this situation might create?
Laurie: We have seen white nationalists try to co-op other mainstream events in recent months. For instance, in January Matthew Heimbach protested a women’s march in Tennessee. This tactic can accomplish a couple of things for the hate groups: they can get publicity by protesting an event planned by others, and they can try to detract from the message of the planned event, which is usually one they oppose.
JCH: If there’s one thing every law enforcement or justice professional should keep in mind when responding to Hate Events… what would it be?
Laurie: I wouldn’t just confine this advice to dealing with white supremacists, but rather all hate group events: you simply must research the groups involved, then have a well-thought plan to keep the hate group or groups and the counter-protesters separate while at the same time guaranteeing the right to free speech for both. That can be an extremely difficult balancing act, but as we’ve learned from past events, it’s imperative for public safety.